Email Conventions and Why Email Clients Suck

There are two common email conventions in my world that I use many times a day in Gmail. I don’t remember where either of them came from or how much I influenced their use in my little corner of the world, but I see them everywhere now.

The first is +Name. When I add someone to an email thread, I start the email with +Name. For example:


Gang – happy to have a meeting. Mary will take care of scheduling it.

Now, why in the world can’t gmail recognize that and automatically add Mary to my To: line? If I needed to do “+Mary Weingartner”, that would be fine. Gmail is supposed to be super smart – it should know my address book (ahem) or even my most recently added Mary’s and just get it done.

The other is bcc: Whenever I want to drop someone from an email chain, I say “to bcc:” For example:

Joe – thanks for the intro. To bcc:

Pauline – tell me more about what you are thinking.

Then, I have to click and drag on some stuff in the address field to move Joe from the To: line to the bcc: line.

Dear Developers Working On Email Clients Of The World: Would you please put a little effort into having the email client either (a) learn my behavior or (b) Add in lots of little tricks that are common, but not standard, conventions?


  • Dave Katz

    Gmail has been much better at setting rules from content within incoming emails. Anytime someone recommends a day or time, there’s an option to click and set up a calendar meeting/reminder. I’m surprised that they haven’t rolled out anything like this as you’re writing an email.

  • Matt Richards

    What platforms should be targeted first for email clients?

  • Well they do know which contacts to suggest for your email thread based on your history.

    I think Gmail isn’t able to learn things you’re talking about because of small amount of data. They probably have some machine learning there, but not sure how much data they have to do what you suggested.

    Or, it could be they just don’t care that much.

  • L.A

    Brad – This is the best mobile app email client. It incorporates the best of Gmail and Inbox. Type Mail:

    • I spend a lot of my time in Chrome or on a Mac so I’m much more interested in Chrome / Mac apps. I’m quite happy with Outlook on iOS right now.

      • Todd Vernon

        I’m totally about Outlook on iOS after being away for several years. The gmail web interface is horrible and all the other mac clients fail under heaving threading and tons of emails.

        Outlook on iOS is very good as well.

        • L.A

          Try Type Mail for iOS. (I don’t work for them, I just really love their app)

  • Email features…

    (1) Next meeting time, e.g., “/nextmtgtime 30” and give me a drop down list of 30 minute meeting windows pulled from my calendar (yes, I’ve tried – not bad but only in Gmail and has problems with multiple calendards – don’t we all have multiple calendars?)

    (2) Contact information, e.g., “/john doe contact” and it inserts email, phone, etc. for John Doe into the email – pulled from my contacts

    (3) Connections – this ones a little complicated but the gist is I’d like to see a list of people connected to the current conversation either through social network connections and/or content connections. For example, if someone emails me about a financial forecast for Acme, Inc. I would like a list of people connected to Acme, Inc., the sender of the email, and financial forecasting. In other words, generate the list of people that I would do if someone asked me “who’s involved with this conversation or could/should be involved?”

    (4) Auto-tasking – another complicated one – the mail client parses incoming and outgoing mail and creates tasks based on verbs such as “will” (e.g., I will…) or “need” (e.g., John needs to…). Think about the way a good assistant will help create a list of tasks based on a meeting/discussion. Link this with Trello and notifications to alert people when they are tasked.

    (5) Auto-storage of attachments – never insert an attachment, always convert the attachment into a permalink to the file stored on the cloud with auto-permissions granted to the recipients. This seems like a no-brainer but I don’t know a good solution. The current approach I use is to put the file into Google Drive, create and copy a sharing link accessible to anyone with the link, and insert that into the email. Painful.

    • This list alone makes me wanna start and email startup!

  • If you use Google Inbox (which you can use in parallel with GMail; it’s essentially just a different front end), you can do the +Name and easily choose someone to get added as a recipient.

    It’s not a solution for #2 above, but it’s part-way there. 🙂

    • Yeah – I’ve seen that some. I tried Inbox and got frustrated. Maybe I should try again.

      • I don’t like the lower information density in Inbox, but I do like that I can mark specific emails as “ToDos” and then flip the switch so I only see those messages. (Effectively pausing my inbox.)

        Email is such an individual choice, part of me is surprised that Gmail has achieved the number of users they have…

      • such a messed up tradeoff between Inbox and Gmail right now. Inbox has the + convention which I use daily and the bundling which is really helpful for workflow, but lacks plugin support and lots of other features. Gmail is getting slower and slower and is behind on features. C’mon!

      • The most frustrating part of the smart inbox is overconfidence. Once almost missed a plane due to Google’s inbox taking a booking request confirmation as a flight confirmation. Each feature needs to be tested for edge cases.

  • Simone Brunozzi

    The bcc thing is sooooo true. I keep thinking about it 50% of the times I do a bcc. Which means, several times a week.

  • I had a similar discussion just last week when I did the bcc thing and forgot to actually put the person in bcc. 2 times.

  • RBC

    While requesting features, we should also give thanks for great/helpful features. Whomever added the prompt before a message is sent mentioning an attachment … with no attachment … CHAPEAU!!

  • Alex Iskold

    Thanks for writing this Brad! Trigger a whole bunch of thoughts from me on the subject, which I wrote down here.

  • +1. Given everyone uses email, calendar and tasks slightly differently, what we seem to need is an “open” (scriptable) email/cal/todo app.

    I want not just the bcc trick, but SaneReminder and features in all my email, automatically, not just when I’m on my notebook.

  • That’s a pretty good system, I typically use @jane to specificy within a message something within the body is to someone specifically.

    Another thing I try to do is hashtag subjects for reference, say #design or #restaurant sort of like labeling within the body, rather than having to set up a whole new label, add it to the email. It’s hard to get others to jump on it, and you’d need to be able to assign the hashtag to someone else, or change the subject. One solution could be a wordcloud with the hashtags for easy search, then when you click on it, you could strip all the stuff away and just show the email.

    We considered doing this for the email contest, but didn’t want to get too distracted from the primary idea. By the end we stopped using email and were using Slack. It helps with this by stripping away the headers and all the garbage and using channels, it partially solves referencing items with the ability to see all files that have been posted, but it still relies on search quite a bit.

    Email still has a place and could be better. The data is certainly underutilized, except by google!

  • I’m dreaming of having an autofill/Swiftkey type system for my Gmail on the computer — actually let me Google that now to see if it exists…